Exalted: Strange Times
A high fantasy game of mystery, magic and martial arts using White Wolf’s Exalted (Second Edition).
Strange times have come upon the Winter lands.
Chasms split ice plains that have been stable for generations, only to close again just as suddenly. Ghosts of great cities drift on the wind, and those mortals who follow them find only madness or death. Mechanisms wander the landscape without pilots, apparently bent on completing some ineffable task. There are disappearances; youths -- always youths, and often comely -- who slip out one night, never to be seen again. The north has always been dangerous, and has always had its fair share of oddities, but stories such as these are becoming more and more common. Most troubling of all, the borders of the Wyld -- the unshaped chaos that lies beyond Creation -- have started to shift, moving in and out like the breaths of some great beast. And something is stirring in the depths.
A storm is coming.
Meanwhile, at the edge of the known world: A group of adventurers seek an ancient treasure, but will find more than they bargained for…
Prologue: The City at the Edge of Creation
A while ago, the Council of Windcreche -- one of the northernmost Haslanti city-states -- came into possession of a map purporting to show the location of a First Age city. For a while this was nothing but a curiosity, as the region in question was swallowed by the Wyld centuries ago. However, the border marches have started to move again. There have been reports that the boundary in that region has actually been pushed back a ways, perhaps far enough to reveal the city and all its wonders…
This could not come at a better time for Windcreche. Although it was one of the first Haslanti settlements, it has long been superseded in wealth and importance by places like Icehome and Crystal. A crop of First Age treasures would put it back on the map in a big way. If there were some way to stabilise the Wyld border where it is, they might even be able to restore city itself to something of its former glory. But those are thoughts and ambitions for a future time. First, they need to find and claim it.
The council have assembled an expedition, placing you -- their best and brightest -- in command. Your goals are simple: find this First Age city and claim it in the name of the Council of Windcreche; retrieve as many treasures as you can. The danger is great, but the Council have great faith in your abilities. Do this thing for them, and untold glory will be yours.
Just do it quickly, before the Wyld shifts again.
The expedition leader is a man named Arngrim Olriksson, secretary to Councillor Sela Siggesdattir. Rane, a scout and explorer, is the group’s Pathfinder and Ulfhild Nomansdottir, a warrior of some renown, is responsible for their safety. The other person of note is Magnus Runolfsson, a scholar of the First Age who is also rumoured to possess a little magic. These four are each in command of a score or so of skilled people (administrators, guards, scouts and archaeologists, etc.). The Council have provided a fully-crewed ice-ship and sufficient provisions and equipment.
Arngrim is the leader of the expedition, and is very good at getting people to do what he wants. He would probably be first choice for any kind of negotiations, and is fairly good at finding things out. Although he can handle himself in a fight, but that isn’t one of his strengths. Under his command are some personal guards, as well as the people responsible for the logistics of the expedition.
He grew up on an ice-ship, one of a family of traders travelling from one city-state to another. He helped out in the family business from a young age and, as the eldest child, it was always assumed that he would take over one day. When he was young, however, the ship was attacked, leaving him the only survivor. He went to live with an uncle, a bureaucrat in Windcreche. His uncle got him a job as a junior clerk, but it was his own talent and hard work that got him where he is today. (Well, that and knowing which ears to whisper in. Or where the bodies are buried, depending.) As secretary to an ambitious Council member, he has a great deal of influence, both official and unofficial.
Arngrim always wears gloves, leading to speculation that his hands are disfigured in some way. He doesn’t seem to have any difficulty in using them, however. It is rumoured that he and Sela are lovers, and some believe that her influence -- rather than his talents -- are why he has been placed in charge of the expedition.
Rane is a military scout, and is the expedition’s Pathfinder. She knows the wilderness like the back of her hand and is very good at getting around unnoticed. Her senses are sharp and it’s rare for her to be taken by surprise. She commands a company of scouts and rangers.
One of nature’s wanderers, Rane was originally from somewhere to the South; a farm girl who wanted more from life than to eke out a meagre living by toiling over a patch of ground all day. When a travelling fair passed through her village, the performers’ tales of faraway places and exotic lands fuelled her burning desire to escape. Seeing this as an opportunity -- a sign -- she went with the fair when it moved on. She spent the next few years with them, paying her way by performing in acrobatic displays (she proved to have a natural talent for it) and by doing odd jobs. Eventually, though, she realised that this wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life. It wasn’t without some reluctance that she left the troupe, as she’d come to view them as a second family. They parted on good terms.
For the next few years, Rane travelled through Creation, wandering off the beaten track and searching for… something. Somewhere. It wasn’t until she ended up in the lands of the Haslanti League that she thought she’d found what she was looking for. The territories of the League gave her a place she could call home, but with the freedom to roam. An untamed frontier to explore. Something to do with her life. She has come to think of Windcreche as her true home, becoming a League citizen and signing up for military service. Her skills and experience naturally led her towards the Blooded Hawks (the League’s battlefield operations corps), where she has worked as a scout ever since. Their relative informality suits her well, as does the fact that they don’t seem to mind her taking off for weeks at a time when she gets restless.
Four years ago, an encounter with a fellow soldier resulted in a daughter. Being a mother came as something of a shock, but she came around to the idea. She hopes that the child -- Maya -- will want to follow in her footsteps when she’s older, and has already taken her along on some of her shorter trips. For now, she leaves her with a foster family when she’s out in the field.
It was Rane’s abilities, experience and loyalty that put her name on the list for the expedition. The fact that she was chosen over the other Pathfinder candidates has come as something as a surprise to many, however, because she is not believed to have any powerful patrons who might have spoken for her, or who might have wanted her there to given them a claim on whatever riches may result.
Ulfhild is extremely skilled at personal combat and at leading others in battle. She commands a squad of warriors.
Her family were part of a pioneer group that settled a newly discovered emerald at the edge of the League territories. It was hard work, but worthwhile. Their little community thrived, and soon others started to take note of their success. The visitors arrived after their first harvest, asking to speak with the community leaders. They were polite, but the threat behind the Guild’s offer of ‘protection’ was clear. When they departed -- saying that they would allow the community time to discuss their proposal -- they left turmoil in their wake. The people argued amongst themselves, their debate stretching for several days. Some said they should give in and pay the Guild what they wanted. Others -- Ulfhild’s parents among them -- said if they were to capitulate now, it would just be the beginning. In the end, those urging resistance prevailed, and when the Guild agents returned, they were politely but firmly informed that the village would not be dealing with them. Ulfhild’s mother was the one who delivered the message.
When the agents departed, the community cheered as if they’d won a victory. They truly believed that in the face of their defiance, the Guild would simply go away and find an easier target. They were wrong. The Guild returned in the middle of the night, in force. They killed the most defiant of the villagers -- setting an example -- and captured the rest. Some of them remained as forced labour, to work the emerald’s farmland for the Guild. Some of them were taken as slaves. Ulfhild was one of these. She thinks her parents were among those killed outright. The shock of what had happened means that her memories of that night are still quite hazy. By the time she fully came to her senses again, she and the other captives were more than halfway to their destination: the auction block.
Ulfhild’s unwillingness to bow her head to her captors -- and her numerous escape attempts -- gained her a reputation for rebellion and for being a vicious fighter. This eventually saw her thrown into the gladiator’s arena. Although this was supposed to be a death sentence, it was actually a blessing in disguise. Her time in the pits honed her fighting skills, and the contacts she made played a vital role in her next -- successful -- escape attempt.
Once they’d escaped the arena -- and exacted a measure of vengeance upon their captors -- what was there for Ulfhild and her band of ex-gladiators to do? None of them really had homes to return to, and they had to earn a living somehow. With their particular skills, becoming a mercenary band seemed like a perfectly logical career choice. They wandered around, fighting in one minor war after another, until they ended up on Windcreche’s payroll.
Magnus is one of the foremost scholars of magic and the First Age. He is also a highly-trained geomancer, astrologer and enchanter. His years in the field, personally hunting down artefacts and excavating ruins, have left him better able to take care of himself than the typical ivory tower academic. On the expedition, he is taking a group of archaeologists and scholars.
Born to a large, poor family, Magnus never thought that he was anything particularly special. That was before the expedition came through his village. It wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened -- expeditions and adventurers were a common sight when some old ruins or other had been unearthed nearby. In fact, it was common knowledge among the village folk that these people were now their main source of income. The gods knew that farming alone certainly wasn’t enough to keep them going. In any case, when this group were done with their excavations, their leader approached Magnus’ parents. He was, he said, looking for an apprentice. Their youngest son would fit the bill nicely, and he would be more than willing to compensate them for their trouble. To his parents’ credit, they did first turn the stranger down. It was only when he increased the amount of “compensation” from “a lot” to “enough to make a real difference to their circumstances” that they started to waver. While they were discussing the matter, in hushed but anguished voices, Magnus stepped forward and simply said: “We agree”. After that, his parents made no more than token protests. Before the day was done, Magnus was on his way to a new life.
He isn’t sure what made him decide to go with strangers. It was certainly a risk. At the same time, it offered an opportunity to get out of this place and do something with his life. In the end, he decided to take a chance. Adept Solomon -- for that’s how his new master introduced himself -- seemed to be a scholar of some kind, and seemed to genuinely want an assistant. Or possibly just another student. For his part, Magnus was willing to learn and he proved a more than able scholar, absorbing new material at a rate that seemed to astonish his tutors. The lessons were genuinely interesting and this seemed to be an easier life than the one he would have had back at the village. Much to his surprise, he was even allowed to visit his family on occasion, although as the time passed, those visits only seemed to emphasise just how different he was becoming to the rest of them.
After he’d been with the scholars a year or so, Solomon finally answered the question that had been nagging at the back of his mind: why him? It was simple, his master said: the stars told him. That was how he was introduced to the art of astrology, and how he realised that he had a true talent for magic. Shortly after that, he was accepted as an Initiate into the order, and has since worked his way up the ranks to become one of their pre-eminent members.
Magnus spends much of his time in the field. When he heard about the Windcreche expedition, it piqued his curiosity. He immediately made haste to try to secure a place. Fortunately, his reputation is formidable enough that he didn’t have a great deal of difficulty.